Saturday the Kurdistan Regional Government holds their provincial and presidential elections. In the backdrop is increased tensions between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad over issues such as oil and disputed territories. Andrew Lee Butters explores "Why Kurds vs. Arabs Could Be Iraq's Next Civil War" (Time magazine):
With a projected capacity of about 40,000 barrels a day, the new oil refinery inaugurated Saturday by the Kurdish regional government of northern Iraq on Saturday is modest even by the standards of Iraq's dilapidated oil industry. But its significance shouldn't be underestimated: In Kurdish minds, the region's ability to refine the oil it pumps is a vital step towards deepening its autonomy from the Arab-majority remainder of Iraq. (Read "The Reasons Behind Big Oil Declining Iraq's Riches.")
Until recently, Iraqi Kurdistan had no refineries of its own, and though the area is sitting on a huge pool of oil, it had to rely on gasoline supplies from elsewhere in Iraq, Turkey or Iran. Fearful of giving Iraq's ethnic Kurdish minority any control over the country's most precious resource, Saddam Hussein had not only declined to build refineries in the region; he made sure Iraq's oil pipelines bypassed Kurdish areas, and his army forcibly removed much of the Kurdish population of from Kirkuk -- the most important oil producing area in the north -- and repopulated the city with Arabs moved from the south. (Watch a video about the gas shortage in Iraq.)
Since Saddam's demise, however, the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is steadily developing an independent oil industry in northern Iraq. It has discovered and begun to develop new oil fields inside its boundaries, and entered production-sharing deals with foreign oil companies made without the consent of the federal government in Baghdad. Those deals have raised suspicions among Iraq's Arab-dominated government that KRG is not simply taking on more of the prerogatives of sovereign statehood, but is actually laying the economic infrastructure for independence.
Providing the Kurds with a protected region made perfect moral and geopolitical sense. Saddam had repeatedly attempted genocidal campaigns against them: the Anfal depopulation campaign in 1987-88, in which the Baathist regime killed or expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds; the expulsion of thousands of Fayli (Shiite) Kurds from northern Iraq into Iran; and the 1988 slaughter of 5,000 Kurds with chemical weapons in Halabja.
In April 2003, the peshmerga helped the U.S. fight Saddam -- not just in the Kurdish area but also south of the Green Line. When it came to Kirkuk, however, the Kurds moved in during the war and never left. With Saddam gone, the Kurds quickly set up Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) offices in the city and began to establish facts on the ground.
From the Kurdish point of view, all this was natural and just. Before Saddam’s brutal expulsions during his Arabization campaign, Kirkuk had a Kurdish majority.
Iraq's post-Saddam interim constitution -- which we in the Coalition Provisional Authority helped the Iraqis draft -- recognized Kurdish authority only over the territories that the Kurds controlled before the fall of the regime. The permanent Iraqi Constitution went a step further in requiring a referendum to determine the future status of Kirkuk. While both articles clearly left Kirkuk outside the jurisdiction of the KRG in the near term, the language also conceded that Kirkuk and other nearby areas were "disputed territories." In the eyes of the Kurds, this ambiguity left the door open.
It sure would be nice if one of the two from the former administration weighing in today could have noted the previous administration's refusal to address the issue which is why it is now even worse than it was before.
Monday, US Secretary Robert Gates held a press conference with Adm Mike Mullen to announce the expansion of the US Army and to refute Ernesto Londono report "U.S. Troops in Iraq Find Little Leeway" (Washington Post) from earlier in the morning. Not only was Londono's report correct, other reporters are covering the issue -- more press conferences needed, Gates! Oliver August (Times of London) addresses the issue:
When American troops pulled out of Iraqi cities this month they did not realise quite how final their departure would be. The Iraqi military has since barred them from re-entering areas they previously controlled and all but locked them out of towns and cities.
US convoys can no longer pass through checkpoints in Baghdad without prior approval and an Iraqi escort. American night-time raids in pursuit of insurgents have also been curtailed by Iraqi officials who gained the right to veto all such missions on July 1.
In several cases, the Iraqis took action themselves; in others the suspected insurgents slipped away.
Gina Cavallaro (Army Times) reports that Sgt Joseph Bozeicevich did not enter a plea at his Fort Smith arraignment yesterday: "Bozicevich, 39, is accused of killing his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson, and his fellow team leader Sgt. Wesley Durbin on a patrol base sout of Baghdad on Sept. 14." Russ Bynum (AP) notes that a trial date was set, March 29th.
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andrew lee butters
times of london